Iraqi activist killers create a “climate of fear” ahead of the election

Iraqi militants linked to entrenched political parties have killed and abducted dozens of political militants, analysts say, creating a climate of fear ahead of the October parliamentary elections.

Despite government promises to protect activists and punish attackers, analysts say powerful paramilitary groups aim to discourage voting and intimidate the two-year grassroots protest movement that wants to change politics. in the oil-rich country.

The UN has documented targeted killings of 32 “protesters and critics” between October 2019 and May 2021, while an additional 16 people survived the assassination attempts. Twenty others died after being abducted. About 500 people were killed during the violence at the October 2019 demonstrations, which killed the previous government.

“We cannot say that there is a perpetrator behind all the kidnappings and killings,” said Lahib Higel, a senior analyst at Baghdad-based Crisis Group. But “for activists and those seeking to establish political parties… It is very clear that they are politically affiliated paramilitary groups that drive this kind of intimidation. They want disincentives to participate in formal politics.”

This pattern of violence has “contributed to a climate of fear,” Higel added.

The mourning brings Ihab al-Wazni’s body to the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala after he was killed outside the house by men on motorcycles © Mohammed Sawaf / AFP / Getty

No one has been charged with any of these crimes. Some incumbent parties have already boycotted the elections, which are being held for the first time since the October 2019. Demonstrations. ‘activists were’ because [political elites and militias] felt the danger of activists in the elections. “

Shiite militias have erupted in chaos following the U.S.-led chase of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Its power and popularity have been bolstered by its role in the fight against Sunni jihadist Isis, which began in 2014. But when allegations of military crime emerge after the defeat of Isis in 2018, public opinion has turned against the militias, which are now under a state-sponsored security umbrella called Hashd al-Shaabi, or People’s Mobilization Forces. Protesters have criticized Shiite militias for their ties to Tehran, which has used its Revolutionary Guards to support Iraqi groups that regularly attack military bases housing American troops.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has expressed support for the protesters, but is embroiled in efforts to curb militias © Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office / Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, unelected, settled after protesters overthrew his predecessor, said he supported the protest movement, but was embroiled in efforts to curb militias that have real political influence. His success at the polls in 2018 means that armed groups “have more power from the state than the prime minister. They have access to more deputies… More access to the judiciary, more access to key political actors.” said Renad Mansour, senior research researcher at Chatham House. “It is not a handful of militias that can intimidate the prime minister. They are in the state system, ”he added.

The protesters had hoped that a new electoral law, which was ratified in late 2020 and increases the number of constituencies, would slow the seizure of power held by well-established political parties. But analysts have warned that larger parties, with deeper pockets and stronger local ties, will still have the upper hand.

“The same parties that benefit from the low turnout are trying to make people depressed, disappointed at the possibility of achieving change,” said an Iraqi political adviser, who asked not to be called. “And we think that too [latest] murders can be explained under this ”.

As blatant attacks on activists have continued, often done in broad daylight or captured on CCTV, public confidence in the Iraqi government has fallen. Only 22 percent of Iraqis said they had confidence in their government when interrogated April by the Al Mustakilla Research Group and Gallup International.

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